This week I want to give a quick demo of how collaborating with colleagues on a project actually works in Confluence, and describe some of the ways business benefits from this.

This won't take long and will cause no pain: in fact you may even find your 'Happiness' button being pushed.

Collaboration: Last but not Least
Over the last couple of years our business has aquired several other companies who had their own documentation and documentation systems. These are spread around Europe and Scandanavia. To complicate matters further, we have several other offices around the world. Fortunately the wiki is used a central point of reference, a meeting point if you will, by us all.

Several people, myself included, wanted to do something to bring all the documentation from the various departments and offices together. We wanted to coordinate not only the docs themselves, but their styles and formats, processes and deliverables. We also wanted to see where our strengths and weaknesses were, and see how we can use this info to improve our client-facing and internal documentation.

To do this we formed a new group and started a new space within the wiki called Global Documentation. We then invited as many people to join the group as we could think of. Naturally not everyone invited has the time or inclination to do the work, and those who wanted to were able opt out, did but many are still part of the group.

There are three main movers in this group (naturally I'm one), with other members adding their feedback and thoughts on a variety of subjects whenever the need arises. For example: versioning the user info. 

One person started this converstion with me, and I added it as a topic to the Global Docs space. Using the @mentions functionality to target those I knew were responsible for user documentation, I asked the group for feedback on how they version their info.

How-To On Using @mentions
To use @mentions, all you do is add the '@' symbol and then start entering the persons name. A list will appear that auto-populates as you type. When you save the page or comment, the persons you targeted is automatically sent a notification. It's that simple.

Back To The Future OF Documentation
They were notified as soon as I saved the page and within a matter of minutes a few had added their own updates. So with very little effort, a a globally-based conversation had started. Now every time someone updates these pages, everyone involved gets notified.

Because the notifications include the updates, they can see how the conversation is going without having to go to the wiki. Even better, they can reply to updates really easily using the built in Reply option. 

This means:
  • people are getting involved in a way they wouldn't have before.
  • because people are talking to each other, we're discovering more about how the company works, and where we can improve this.
  • conversations are happening in one place.
  • the conversation is not getting lost, spread out and dissipated in multiple emails.
  • no one is being accidentally left out.
  • the whole conversation can be found and searched by anyone with access to the space. (And this space is open to the entire company as we believe everyone should have the opportunity to take part, even though their involvement may be limited to being a watcher.)

On top of this there are some more subtle benefits, such as using the Like button to show that you've read something even if you can't reply to it immediately. I do this because, and this is really helpful if you're targetting a specific person, it lets the other person know that you've at least read what they said.

This probably isn't what Atlassian were thinking of when they built this functionality into Confluence, but it suits our needs to use it this way.

From all of this you can see how, on a global level, geography and time are not an issue. People all around the planet are connecting, conversing and collaborating without little effort.

The business benefits are many pretty obvious: in my opinion if you're not using this sort of technology, then you are actually missing the opportunity to get people involved and working together without a song and dance. 

Is this something you can afford not to do? 

That Was The Week
And what a good one it was, largely because we had the Dutch Atlassian User Group meeting, which is populated by lots of really great people full of useful information, and all willing to do what they can to help
those who arrive with a laptop full of questions.

One of the great things about using products you are genuinely enthusiastic about, is that you meet other people who feel the same, which means meetings like this are not something you do 'because you have to'. Just the opposite in fact. And I couldn't say that about many products I use from any sphere of life.

Aside from talking to many of the Atlassian experts and partners, we also have case studies from people who are using one or more of Atlassian's products. This means you also get an insight into using such things as JIRA and Greenhopper for example. You also find out more about how people are using the same products in different ways.

One of the best things for me is those little bits of info that you come across almost by accident. We had one of those this week with an impromptu demo of Confluence 4.3, given by Stefan Kohler, who is a developer and scrum-master of Atlassian partner 42.

His demo came right at the end after the big screen was packed up and featured @mentions (see earlier blogs) combined with the Task List functionality.

The latter has been updated to make it easier and faster to use, and allows you to assign tasks to people using @mentions. When you do this, the person mentioned is sent a notification which is highlighted in the toolbar next to their user name. This means they can easily see that someone's sent them a notification or assigned a task to them.

When you recieve a notification you see an envelope icon by your name. If you click on this, you can read the update and react to it by writing back using the same message. So without having to go anywhere else, you can message the sender back. All of which makes the functionality simple, fast and efficient - and totally brilliant. And I can't wait to get my hands on it.